The trio of landmark works recently released by Medeski, Martin, and Wood as the Radiolarians series has now been compiled into one five-CD collection The Evolutionary Set. Whereas the site has already reviewed the individual releases we are concerned with the bonus material here. The box set includes Explorarians, a live CD, Remixolarians, a CD containing remixed material, and three unreleased studio tracks.
Explorarians showcases MMW in their element—the live stage. It goes without saying that it is quite intoxicating to hear the three musicians pushing each other, finding new ways to communicate an idea, toying with beat and nuance, and yet, never losing a sense of rhythm, or direction. The overall live experience documented over eight tracks fulfills its purpose—one is taken on a journey, a rousing adventure soaked in the city life milieu, searching for a way to push that very city into a new way of looking at itself. You can hear the beautiful noise on the subtext of “Chasen vs. Suribachi,” the patient fortitude on “Amish Pintxos,” the gloriously raunchy and electric mind food scenery in “Junkyard,” and the comical stutterstep/jive strut on “Gwyra Mi.” Instrumentals have a way of speaking, when in the proper hands, linked to minds willing to communicate, and MMW provides that engaging dialogue in a very worthwhile set.
Remixolarians is, of course, a matter of taste. In general, remixes can be a hell of lot of fun—perhaps, sometimes, more so for the creator of said remix than the listener. What is helpful here is that the source material from the original three-CD Radiolarians is so strong and flexible that the numerous remixers fly freely with these songs without risking artistic atrophy; or, in some cases, creative kitchen sink masturbation. The opening track “Undone,” remixed by Danny Blume, has a bit of that “kitchen sink” vibe to it, but the track is stellar, and features enough unique ADD detours to engage the listener. “Rolling Son,” remixed by DJ Olive, is exotic and strange, and hits the mark. “Reliquary” is a disconnected time machine whirling out of control through space, and shimmers and hums on its own momentum. A choice track of bizarre headiness. Elsewhere, “Flat Tires” was remixed twice—one version by DJ Logic, the other by DJ Spooky. It is the latter reading which pushes the boundaries of the song, much as MMW did with this entire set.
The three unreleased studio tracks included on The Evolutionary Set are not vital listening, and appear to serve as different examples of genre hopping: “Incantation” is morose yet energetic jazz, “Clifton,” is a rough and tawdry blues track and may be the most fun of the trio with Medeski slowly torturing the keys, and “Satan Part II” is a languid stroll down Funk Ave. that percolates, but doesn’t resonant. Just another track. And in a season of giving, MMW doesn’t know when to stop. But who’s complaining?